Ditch the mental spreadsheet – use philosophy and humour to enhance thinking

Dr Morne Mostert is the director of the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at Stellenbosch University. (Picture: Supplied)
Dr Morne Mostert is the director of the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at Stellenbosch University. (Picture: Supplied)

It is not possible to make quality decisions if you are too serious. If you approach a problem in too serious a manner, the process is not only boring, but your mind will also work like a spreadsheet – the thoughts will be nicely boxed and organised. 

Imagination and creativity elevate the mind to high levels of thinking. Someone skilled at philosophical investigation can take the quality of decision-making to a higher level and find new opportunities. 

Humour is one of the mechanisms that can be used to do so.

This is according to Dr Morne Mostert, Director of the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at Stellenbosch University, following his review of the book Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein at the latest USB Executive Development (USB-ED) and finweek’s regular We Read For You (WRFY) presentation held in Cape Town.

This outrageously funny book was a breakout New York Times bestseller and presents a hilarious crash course on the great philosophical traditions, schools, concepts and thinkers.

According to the book, the connection between humour and philosophy is that both have the capacity to flip your mind upside down. 

Although it is not the explicit purpose of philosophy to shock or surprise, it often does. 

It starts out with a conventional way of looking at things and then pulls the rug out from under you to show you new possibilities and perspectives.

Philosophy is the love of wisdom, which is facilitated, among other things, by high-quality thinking. Combining this discipline with the art and science of humour, this book illustrates dominant strands in thinking through philosophical vantage points. 

The book uses the reframing power of humour to show how easy it is to make a thinking error and provides options for greater clarity in a world riddled with complexity.

Humour also uses surprising narratives to unearth deeper and novel insights. Humour tests the bounds and always contains a degree of risk in the sense that it disturbs traditional perspectives. 

But it is exactly this perturbation that propels the thinker to the next level of perception.

Mostert said it was quite surprising to find that a book on philosophy had become a bestseller. But, he pointed out, philosophy determines your thinking, which drives the quality of your decisions. 

High-quality thinking is essential for high-quality futures.

“The idea of the book is that philosophy and humour have the same construction and a similar payoff. Both tease and reframe the mind. Both take you along a path that seems normal and then suddenly a new insight is revealed.

“Why is philosophy so important? We live in an era of post-truth, fake news, so-called ‘so-called’ experts and an explosion of opinion in the name of democracy. 

Naturally democracy is desirable, but false democracy has led many to believe that opinions are just as relevant or valid as science, knowledge or wisdom,” he explained.

The ability for senior executives to engage philosophically and humorously with challenging issues may be an emerging trend in improving understanding and decision-making in a time where horizons of predictability have foreshortened. 

The future must be created. While traditional analysis may provide facts, philosophy and humour provide insights for the design of new opportunities in the future.

finweek is the USB-ED’s media partner in its We Read For You series. The next event will be held on 10 November 2017 in Cape Town. The book Crucial Mentoring Conversations will be discussed by the author Niël Steinmann. To register please click here. Attendance is free. 

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